How can I get my vet staff to come to work after-hours events?

It’s time to define “voluntary” and “mandatory” events

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A veterinary practice manager writes:

My veterinary practice participates in lots of community events throughout the year. We’re at the local dog park, at pet shows, charity events and basically anything we find where we can promote responsible pet ownership and at the same time raise awareness of our practice. We have a mascot, banners and a booth; the whole set up we have built on over the years.

It’s difficult to measure the exact ROI of each of the events. After doing this for years, however, the general feeling from the practice owners is that it’s worthwhile.

In the past, practice staff would volunteer at the events. They are generally held on weekends; some are even after hours, but it had never been a problem finding volunteers. 

Once our attendance at the event is confirmed, I would put it to everyone in the team meeting and ask people to let me know if they want to man the booth. They wouldn’t get paid for working those hours, but I often give them gift cards or buy them lunch to say “thank you.”

Recently we’ve had some changes within the team and it has affected staff morale. I have been trying to organize team-bonding events and continue attending these community events. I feel like this stuff was meant to bring us together us a team, but it has almost had the opposite effect. 

I’m really struggling to find people to volunteer for the community events now, and attendance at team-bonding events is low. I’m thinking about making these mandatory. Is that a good idea? 

The situation you are facing is not uncommon. I believe part of the problem is that we don’t draw a clear line between mandatory and voluntary events. It confuses staff and breeds resentment.

Voluntary Events 

Voluntary events are typically after-hours functions, such as client dinners, team-bonding events organized by management, Christmas parties etc. Staff are not paid an hourly wage for their attendance.

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If an event is truly voluntary, a team member should be able to freely choose whether they attend or not, without any pressure from management. As a manager, you have no right to get frustrated when people don’t attend.

Managers put pressure on employees to attend voluntary events by saying things like:

Leadership and going-above-and-beyond is something that is taken into account during performance reviews. I think volunteering shows leadership.”


I would strongly encourage you to attend.” 

Let’s be honest: this is nothing but a thinly-veiled threat by managers to encourage volunteering because they don’t want to make attendance mandatory.

When an event is designed to be morale-building and team-bonding, making it mandatory is counter to that goal. The moment you start strong-arming people into coming to a fun, social event — that’s the moment they stop being fun.

When you are in a leadership position, your presence at these events may be expected. You may be required to attend a client dinner or even a Christmas party. But let’s be clear: requiring someone to attend no longer makes it voluntary!

Mandatory Events 

Staff can be required to attend any work-related event, including the community events and team-bonding functions you mentioned you are having problems with.

If you really want to disengage your employees, ask them to come to mandatory staff-bonding events after-hours!

I would keep all team-bonding events strictly voluntary, and not ‘strongly encourage’ people to attend. If few people are showing up to fun activities you organized outside the practice, it is probably symptomatic of a wider staff engagement problem. You certainly won’t solve it by forcing staff to attend.

Instead, try organizing short team-bonding activities during work hours and get to the bottom of your staff engagement issues.

However, if your community events are actually valuable for your practice, consider scheduling staff to man the booth at the event. If you do this, you will be required to pay them.

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Review the benefit of these events and try to measure their ROI. If you do decide they are critical and you want the practice to be present, speak honestly with your team.

Say something along the lines, “These events are a priority for the practice because we get X number of clients from each one. Asking people to volunteer hasn’t been working lately, and I want to ensure we divide them fairly between all team members. What I propose is…”

Remind staff that they will no longer receive vouchers as a “thank you,” but will actually be paid an hourly wage.

Managers like the idea of staff volunteering to attend company events because it signals to them that individuals are supporting the company. If you are strong-arming people to attend “voluntary” events, they’re not doing so because they are supporting the company. Draw a clear line between “voluntary” and “mandatory.”

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